Delta boosts transpacific network with early route restart

Jun 17, 2022

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Delta Air Lines is restoring its full service to Seoul, South Korea, earlier than planned, a hopeful sign that transpacific travel may be starting to bounce back from deep pandemic-era cuts.

The airline announced on Friday that it’ll resume flying from its Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) hub to Seoul (ICN) on Oct. 2, more than three weeks before it was originally slated to restart (on Oct. 29).

Delta will operate the 6,248-mile route three times weekly between Oct. 2 and Oct. 28, and then the route will be upgraded to daily service through the rest of the year and beyond.

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The airline will deploy fly the route with its flagship Airbus A350-900 aircraft, which is outfitted with 32 Delta One business-class suites, 48 Premium Select recliners, 36 extra-legroom Comfort+ seats and 190 standard coach ones.

Perhaps the biggest winner in Delta’s announcement is Minneapolis/St. Paul, which is getting its longest and most-prominent route back. The airline cut Seoul service just as the pandemic took hold in March 2020, Cirium schedules show.

In more good news for MSP, Delta plans to also restore service to Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) on Oct. 29 as well, airline spokesperson Drake Castaneda confirmed to TPG.

With the resumption of MSP service, Delta will be back to full service to Seoul, with nonstop flights from Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW) and Seattle (SEA) flying during the winter season. All routes are operated by aircraft outfitted with Delta’s premier business-class suites and Premium Select recliners.

(Map courtesy of Cirium)

The airline also plans to launch a new route to Seoul from Portland, Oregon(PDX), later this year. This route was first announced in April 2021, but the inaugural has since been delayed due to the pandemic.

Seoul is Delta’s main transpacific gateway for those looking to connect to flights within Asia and beyond, as the airline’s joint venture partnership with Korean Air offers travelers more than 80 destinations in the region.

While many of the headlines have recently been about a resurgence in demand for travel to Europe, transpacific travel has been much slower to recover.

With strict COVID travel restrictions and tight border controls, there hasn’t been as much demand for travel to Asia as there’s been to Europe, where many countries have fully reopened without any health requirements.

But now, even countries in Asia are starting to relax their restrictions — and Delta seemingly expects demand to rebound this winter.

“As travel restrictions ease, international and business travel is expected to drive the next leg of Delta’s recovery. Recent demand has been strong in Asian markets, particularly in Korea and Japan as those countries roll back COVID-era travel restrictions. Full restoration of the airline’s Korean network is a positive indicator of what’s to come for the rest of the Asia region,” Matteo Curcio, Delta’s vice president of Asia Pacific, said in a statement.

Delta isn’t the only airline sensing a transpacific rebound.

Last week, United unveiled plans to add a new route between San Francisco (SFO) and Brisbane, Australia (BNE), becoming the first U.S. carrier to add a new transpacific destination since the start of the pandemic.

Even though demand for travel to Australia is recovering, United’s new route is “unlocked” by its new partnership with Virgin Australia.

Virgin entered voluntary administration — similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. — in April 2020 as travel plunged at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Following its restructuring, a much leaner Virgin Australia was later sold to Bain Capital. As part of the new ownership, a transpacific joint venture between Virgin Australia and its then-U.S. partner, Delta, was suspended later in 2020.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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